Iceland is to become the first major UK supermarket to pledge to remove palm oil from all its own-brand foods, in a bid to halt the ongoing destruction of tropical rainforests in south-east Asia. The frozen food specialist will reveal on Tuesday that the controversial ingredient has already been taken out half of its own-label range, with the rest being reformulated by the end of 2018.
Palm oil – a cheap and mass-produced ingredient renowned for its versatility – is currently found in more than half of all supermarket products, from bread, pastry, biscuits, cereal and chocolate to soap and detergent. But the complex supply chain means only a small percentage of the palm oil used to make these products comes from an officially approved sustainable source. Palm oil is also used in cosmetics and biodiesel, and with demand projected to double by 2050, its popularity is set to wreak further havoc on the environment.
In Indonesia and Malaysia, where expanding palm oil and wood pulp plantations are the biggest drivers of deforestation, the orangutan is among the wildlife species threatened with extinction. Recent studies show that Bornean orangutan numbers more than halved between 1999 and 2015, with only 70,000–100,000 now remaining. In Indonesia alone, 146 football pitches of rainforests are lost every hour. Deforestation also results in increased global carbon emissions. In 2014, Indonesia had the fourth largest greenhouse gas emissions, mostly as a result of deforestation.
“Until Iceland can guarantee palm oil is not causing rainforest destruction, we are simply saying ‘no to palm oil’,” said Richard Walker, Iceland managing director, who visited Borneo last November to see the impact of deforestation. “We don’t believe there is such a thing as verifiable ‘sustainable’ palm oil available in the mass market.” Iceland pledges that by the end of 2018, 100% of the supermarket’s own brand food lines will contain no palm oil, reducing demand by more than 500 tonnes per year. Iceland said that before this, palm oil was present in 130 products, or 10% of its brand food. It has worked with its suppliers to replace palm oil with substitutes such as rapeseed and vegetable oils.
The environmental campaign group Greenpeace has been pressuring manufacturers to “take control” of their supply chains. Its UK executive director, John Sauven, said: “Iceland has concluded that removing palm oil is the only way it can offer its customers a guarantee that its products do not contain palm oil from forest destruction. This decision is a direct response to the palm oil industry’s failure to clean up its act. As global temperatures rise from burning forests and populations of endangered species continue to dwindle, companies using agricultural commodities like palm oil will come under increasing pressure to clean up their supply chains. Many of the biggest consumer companies in the world have promised to end their role in deforestation by 2020. Time is running out not just for these household brands but for the wildlife, the climate and everyone who depends on healthy forests for their survival.”
Credit: Rebecca Smithers for The Guardian, 10 April 2018.